Aristotle on Bible Study and Systematic Theology

“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision for which the nature of the subject admits, rather than to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.”

Aristotle 384-322 BC

Aristotle wasn’t a follower of Jesus.  He lived 300+ years before Jesus was born.  But he was a pretty smart guy.  Since the above quote is a mouthful and wasn’t written with Bible Study in mind, I would like to rephrase it and make a point that will help us in our daily Bible study.

How about:

“Speak where the Bible Speaks and Be Silent where the Bible is Silent.”

Or, “Don’t make the Bible say what it doesn’t say!”

Many of the teachings that have divided God’s church originate from someone’s interpretation or opinion of a Bible doctrine that they forced on others.  God has revealed a lot but only a certain amount.  When we go past that revelation and then tell others they are going to Hell for not arriving at our same conclusions, we are in trouble.

For the sake of having a consistent systematic theology, or sometimes to win arguments and debates, we arrive at dubious conclusions.  We often make the Bible be specific about something for our sake, when God has left it vague.

Whether it’s human nature or our western Greek heritage, we like everything neatly organized in lists, charts, and categories.  But sadly, we crave that so much, that we often abuse the Word of God to make things fit.

I am not totally against a systematic view of Scripture.  There is a great benefit in that.  But too often, it comes down to spending a lot of time and focusing on things that God either didn’t say explicity or didn’t say at all.

We need, like Aristotle, to be satisfied with the “degree of precision” of God’s revelation on any given subject, and not try to force some precision for precision’s sake.

I am not saying we should give up short of an exhaustive and comprehensive study to make sure we know what God has revealed, but I suggest caution in our conclusions.


7 thoughts on “Aristotle on Bible Study and Systematic Theology

  1. and it works in reverse, there are things plainly stated, that seem to leave a vague impression on some folks who do not wish to acknowledge what they just read. especially the “Grace only” folks.

  2. I’ve found that the concordance can be a great tool, but it can also be a great hindrance to good Bible study.

    One of the most important things I learned about Bible study was that if you can’t teach something through expository study, you are probably imposing your own ideas on the text.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. I have learned that if I read, read, and read the text and it becomes a part of me, I will “then” begin to see it’s value and meaning…no denomination, system or “sect”…tells me what the text means…meaning that in a respectful manner as always…great post Bro!!

  4. This is a hard one for me. Because I like discussing and thinking about the different possibilities of why and how when looking at Biblical texts. I think it even helps with understanding and applying those things which I can and do know for sure. But mostly, I just enjoy it…

    But I have to be careful not to bind it on others. And I have to be careful not to allow it to take a place of importance in my life. Particularly for those of us in church planting, we have to be careful not to hand over an extremely complex system of belief — not to mention a system that is not necessarily truth in scripture. These days, though, our team is trying to do mission without “handing over” much of anything at all — except the Word itself.

    Good post. We all need to be reminded from time to time not to force meanings on the text, for our own benefit.

  5. Brian

    i am all for studying, thinking, even speculating, but just being careful.

    tim, that’s a good principle, but would def shake us all up a little if we practiced it well

    trent, I got to worship at lone oak Sunday, it was neat to see everyone.

    james, i know missionaries who have finally realized that they planted american churches on foreign soil. those usually don’t take root.

  6. It was so unfortunate, to say the least, when the Roman Catholic Church came to the conclusion that the only orthodox way to understand the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper was the doctrine of transubstantiation. Why does someone have to believe that in order to not be a heretic?

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